Beijing bids to curb information flow


By Eva Cheng The Chinese government has made a few clumsy attempts recently to curb information exchange between the Chinese people and the outside world. A January decree on censoring financial news coming from foreign news agencies has sent a shock wave through Hong Kong, the British colony which will revert to Chinese rule in July next year. It raises further doubts on the extent to which the existing relative press freedom there could be preserved. The news came only weeks after Beijing's sudden move to put a halt to the expansion of the internet in China, only seven months after it was introduced there. The number of providers of international links will be restricted to four. The State Council will now investigate the implications of the internet and plans to draft new rules on usage, according to an official spokesperson. A State Council statement last month focused on the allegedly increasing amount of pornographic material on the internet as a pretext for tightening control. There were reports that Beijing contemplates filtering data flow on the net by way of sensitive key words like "June 4" — the date of the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen. A person called Shannon Yeh had reportedly flooded the internet last June with articles very critical of Deng Xiaoping. Under the scheme to vet financial news, the state Xinhua news agency is authorised to supervise the content of reports as well as subscription rates of all international wire agencies. They would be punishable for releasing information that "slanders and jeopardises China's national interests". Chinese organisations are forbidden to receive economic news directly from foreign news agencies. The International Press Institute, with editors and publishers of 88 countries as its members, has protested Beijing's new censorship move.